Does technology impact culture?

Original article:

In today’s technology driven world, people expect to have the means to communicate with others at any given moment. The ability to create relationships based solely on mutual understandings and shared common interests have fed the social media phenomena. In the past, people were able to get together physically and discuss concerns or share thoughts. However public spheres are changing from gathering in coffee shops to meeting online through forums and other social media platforms. As read in Mediated Society – a critical sociology of media, the prospective of critical sociology, the focus is on how media practices impact what we see as normal and affects society’s values. In today’s world, the easy access to technology creates the situation that, when you look around, people are often using smartphones or using their computers to check on what’s happening in the world around them, providing a feeling of connectedness. Does this ease of connection to the online world hold significant consequences on culture?

Let’s start by defining culture. According to Georg Simmel, “objective culture is seen as a ‘thing’ and subjective culture as its ‘unique experience’ (Jackson, J. D., Neilsen, G, and Hsu, Yon, 2011, p. 10)”. Culture is experienced, shared and adopted.

According to Digital Nation, a 90-minute PBS documentary which aired on Feb. 10, 2010, the purpose of the program was: “to examine the risks and possibilities, myths and realities presented by the new digital culture we all inhabit”. One of the many insights from this documentary is that in this wired world, people living in the same house or workplace can all be looking at different screens and communicating with different people. This changes how people interact with each other, as well as where our public spheres may be found (online instead of discussions at the dining room table or in meetings at work, perhaps?). Most concerning to me is the suggestion that multi-tasking online is not to be applauded but to be concerned because of the impact on cognitive abilities.

Sherry Turkle, is an Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor in the Program of Science, Technology, and Society at MIT and is considered to be a distinguished scholar in the area of how technology influences human identity to understand what happens when mind meets machine.

As seen in TED talks, Turkle shares her thoughts on technology’s impact. She says, “As we expect more from technology; we start to expect less from each other”. She suggests we often hide by sending messages electronically rather than discussing difficult issues in person. This is because of the belief that online is less personal and the effort to connect on a human level and is reduced by sending messages online rather than in person. Why? If by talking about the issues or concerns in person, discussions are open up where feelings, thoughts, ideas are exposed to be shared and probed. Turkle suggests we can hide from each other even though we are more electronically connected. She points out we’re not building relationships with each other, but building relationship with technology as if it’s a real thing. Turkle explains that technology doesn’t empathize, and doesn’t experience death or disappointments. Instead we select to use technology when we feel vulnerable and technology provides us with an illusion of comfort and of being in control.

Turkle says, “We’re lonely, but we’re afraid of intimacy. And so from social networks to sociable robots, we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.” Does this approach of using technology have an impact on relationships?

It’s important that we look at the reasons for the messages we send. Berger’s research looked at the thought processes people go through in order to produce the messages they speak. Berger concluded, “Most social interaction is a goal-driven; we have reasons for saying what we say” (Griffen, 2012. p. 130). With the speed of technology and pace for which many people respond, do they really consider and think through the potential consequences of what they are conveying?

As discussed during our class, Always Already New, the media history and the data of Culture (Gitelman, 2006, p. 59), “Publics are comprised as users, but not all users are entitled or constitutive members of the public sphere.” This can divide more than connect people based on their ability with technology, choice in being connected 24/7, skill in written communications and use of tone in writing.

Constant communication through use of technology is changing the way people think of themselves and how they communicate. They can get attention, always be heard, and never have to be alone. Connecting electronically can also lead to isolation. They often don’t allow the time to think or listen to each other with the constant sensory stimulus of texts, tweets, Facebook updates, emails and more. Understanding the prospective of critical sociology and how media practices impact what is seen as normal affects society’s values. The ease of connecting through technology and communicating online does have an impact on culture locally and globally as more and more people choose to communicate online instead of in person.